Open Letter to Archbishop Lefebvre

Sacred Heart Newsletter, November 1983, Official Publication of the WESTERN CATHOLIC DIOCESE of the U.S.A. under Bishop George Musey, pages 4 and 5:

Your Grace,

Four years ago, November 8, 1979, in an article entitles “The New Mass and The Pope”, you went on record as opposed to those who contend that we have no true Pope on the Throne of St. Peter – those who have since come to be stigmatized as “Sedevacantists”. Because of the prominence you enjoy among Traditional Catholic – even though you have lately resigned your position as head of the Society of St. Pius X and largely retired from the public scene – most of these, including priests, have take your authority for this and parroted your reasoning. Today they are loathe to recognize the Bishops consecrated by Archbishop Ngo-Dihn-Thuc, who hold with him that the Popes of and since Vatican II are illegitimate.

“A good number of theologians,” you wrote, “teach that the Pope can be heretical as a private doctor or theologian, but not as a teacher of the Universal Church.” Reasoning that unless a Pope “willed to engage infallibility,” any doctrinal error he might make would not be made in his capacity as a teacher of the Universal Church.

Do you mean to say that a Pope does not speak as Pope unless he speaks ex Cathedra (“willing to engage infallibility”)? If so, then we must hold that papal Bulls, Constitutions, Encyclicals, and other such lesser pronouncements are not really “papal” documents, as they are commonly called, after all.

And why do you arbitrarily limit the field of discussion to whether a Pope can become heretical, saying that he cannot be heretical as a teacher of the Universal Church? What of one who is found to have been heretical before his election? If perhaps a Pope cannot become formally heretical, can a heretic be validly elected Pope? Why do you take no account of the Constitution Cum Ex Apostolatu of Paul IV, which solemnly declares invalid the elevation or election to office of even a (supposed) Pope who is found to “have deviated (sic) from the Catholic faith” before-hand? You blithely ignore the main authority for the stand of the Thuc Bishops.

You say that Paul VI “acted much more the Liberal than as a man attached to heresy” and that “equivocations is the very mark of a Liberal”. But in matters of orthodoxy is not ambiguity or equivocation equivalent to doubt? If so, what of the maxim, Dubius in Fide haereticus? (Cf. Canon 1325). Are not Liberal Catholics at least suspicious of heresy? Is not a Liberal Pope, on that score along, at best a doubtful Pope?

“The visibility of the Church,” you say, “is too necessary to its existence for it to be possible that God would allow that visibility to disappear for decades”. Is your implicit allowance for it disappearing at all tantamount to doubting the indefectibility of the Catholic Church? If her existence as a visible society depends entirely on the Pope, then how does it not follow that during the interregnum between the death and election of a Pope the Church ceases to be visible? What matters the length of time?

“The reasoning of those who deny that we have a Pope,” you wrote, “puts the Church in an inextricable situation. Who will tell us who the future Pope is to be? How, as there are no (valid) Cardinals, is he to be chosen.”

By the Bishops of the Church, says St. Robert Bellarmine in his classic work DE CONCILIIS ET ECCLESIA, I, c. 14. In the event of the papacy being vacant because of heresy, it would be for them to convene, he says, in a General Council – though “Imperfect” – for this sole purpose, namely to “supply the Church with a head.” Why do you take no account of this great authority either?

You stress the necessity of a “firm maintenance of Tradition rather than the affirmation that the Pope is not the Pope”. Are the “sedevacantists” honestly claiming that “the Pope is not the Pope”? Are not you the author of this Petitio Principii – this logical “Begging the Question” – which makes fools rather of you and your followers? Do you think we whome you oppose are so insane as to mouth contradictions? How can anything not be what it essentially is? If the Pope is the Pope, then he very obviously cannot not be the Pope at the same time. The question is whether this or that person is or is not the Pope; whether the supposed Pope is actually, truly or legitimately Pope – either any longer because of falling into public heresy after his otherwise valid election, or never Pope to begin with for having previously “deviated from the Catholic faith”. But to say or imply that the Pope is the Pope because he is the Pope (as you and yours do) is logically ludicrous.

Unless Your Grace is prepared to publicly answer this letter to the point (ad rem), exposing the fallacies in our own argumentation, then it is high time your authority be discounted.